Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon everyone.
As you will have seen, the Secretary-General spoke to reporters this morning after speaking at the General Assembly’s High-level Event on Climate Change. The Secretary-General noted that the pace of negotiations is moving at a snail’s pace. But, he said, the stars are aligned more than ever before, with Governments, business leaders, civil society, and religious groups working together towards an ambitious agreement in Paris in December.
The Secretary-General reiterated that 2015 is a year for global action, stressing the importance of the twin priorities of sustainable development and address climate change. His full remarks to the press should be available shortly in our office, as are his remarks to the General Assembly event this morning.
The Secretary-General will be in Barbados from Wednesday, 1 July, to Friday, 3 July, to address the opening of the thirty-sixth Summit of the Caribbean Community or CARICOM. This would be the Secretary-General’s second visit to the region to attend a CARICOM Summit. In 2010, he travelled to Jamaica and was the first UN Secretary-General to address such a high-level regional summit in the Caribbean. During his two-day visit, the Secretary-General is also expected to open the Caribbean Sustainable Development High-level Dialogue, which will focus on partnership between the United Nations and CARICOM on the post-2015 development agenda and climate change.
He is scheduled to hold bi-lateral meetings with the Prime Minister of Barbados and incoming Chair of CARICOM, Freundel Stuart. He will also meet with the heads of the regional organizations coordinating CARICOM’s response to climate change. On Thursday, he will visit local initiatives that focus on promoting sustainable development and addressing climate change in the country and region. The Secretary-General will attend an event on ending gender-based violence in Barbados, organized by UN-Women and UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund]. On Friday, he will deliver remarks at the launch of the Lancet Caribbean HIV/AIDS report, as well as hold an interactive session with young people in the region at the University of the West Indies.
Then, after Barbados, the Secretary-General will leave New York on Sunday, 5 July, for Norway to attend the Oslo Summit on Education for Development and visit the Arctic region. Upon arrival in Oslo, on Monday, 6 July, the Secretary-General will participate in the global launch of the Millennium Development Goals Progress Report. He will first address via video-conference the launch ceremony at Headquarters in New York, before holding a joint press conference with Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, and Ms. Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of Norway, both members of the MDG Advocacy Group. He will also attend a humanitarian forum on the “Role of Civil Society in Humanitarian Emergencies” with Borge Brende, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway.
On Tuesday, 7 July, the Secretary-General will participate in the Oslo Summit on Education for Development. He will also meet with His Royal Highness Crown Prince Haakon and other high-level officials. The Secretary-General will then depart for Longyearbyen, the largest populated area on the territory of Svalbard, located in the high Norwegian Arctic, to board the research vessel RV Lance. In the run-up to the Paris Conference, the Secretary-General will be briefed by scientists and observe first-hand effects of climate change on the region, which he visited in 2009. This visit will include an excursion to the Blomstrandbreen glacier to see first-hand the dramatic changes to the ice, as well as briefings at the Kings Bay Marine Laboratory and the Svalbard Satellite Station. The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Thursday, 9 July.
Kyung-wha Kang, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on the question of humanitarian access to Syria, and she warned that the violence that has so far killed more than 220,000 Syrians has not abated. She said that the use of barrel bombs in populated areas by the Syrian Government continues, causing hundreds of civilian deaths. And she noted that indiscriminate attacks on Government-controlled areas in Aleppo killed at least 116 people in April and May, nearly half of them women and children.
Despite the challenges, Ms. Kang said, each month, the World Food Programme (WFP) feeds approximately 4.1 million people, the World Health Organization (WHO) distributes medicine and supplies for some 2.7 million people and UNICEF provides water, sanitation and other support to about 2.2 million people. But, she warned that aid deliveries to 4.8 million people in hard-to-reach areas remains a serious challenge as a result of active conflict, insecurity and deliberate obstruction by the parties to the conflict. We have her remarks in our office.
On Burundi, you saw the statement we issued yesterday in which the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the Government of Burundi's insistence on going ahead with elections today despite the prevailing political and security environment. The Secretary-General deplores the intransigence of the parties that caused important efforts by the International Facilitation team to be inconclusive.
He also emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Burundi to ensure that elections take place in a secure environment and also to guarantee the safety and security of UN observers so that they can perform their mandated responsibilities free from intimidation or harassment. Condemning recent attacks reported in the country, he appealed to all Burundians to refrain from violent acts, in line with the Charter of Non-Violence agreed to by all parties.
And over the weekend, he spoke with President Kikwete of Tanzania, President Zuma of South Africa and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Ms. Dlamini-Zuma about the situation in the country.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya, Bernardino León, spoke to the press today in Skhirat, Morocco, where Libyan parties have been meeting on the political agreement. Mr. León said that there is an agreement amongst the parties on the majority of the elements of the proposal. However, the parties need to go back to Libya to consult with their respective constituencies, he added. The Special Representative is expecting them to get back on Wednesday and to initialize the agreement on Thursday this week. More information is available on the UN Support Mission in Libya’s (UNSMIL) website.
The UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, reports that heavy fighting erupted in Malakal, in Upper Nile State on Saturday between SPLA [Sudan People’s Liberation Army] and armed opposition forces, and continued throughout the night. Mortar rounds landed near the UNMISS compound that evening and stray bullets entered the protection-of-civilians site, wounding an infant in the leg. Sporadic gunfire continued in Malakal yesterday.
We have serious concerns about public health in Aden governorate in Yemen, where the local authorities are reporting cumulative figures of over 8,000 cases of dengue and 586 deaths in the governorate, and 11 deaths on a daily basis. There are also concerns over outbreaks of measles, rubella and polio in governorates that are affected by conflict. Also in Aden, an oil storage tank in Al Buraiqeh district caught fire on 27 June after being hit. Fuel is an important yet scarce commodity linked to the humanitarian needs of Yemenis, including for pumping water and running generators, particularly at hospitals.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, today said that the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot communities met today in a positive and results-oriented atmosphere. Mr. Eide said that they are determined to keep the pace of their meetings and in line with their joint commitment to a leader-led process. He said that the leaders are now immersed in substantive negotiations and are focusing on unresolved core issues. With substantive negotiations now at the centre of their work, the leaders reiterated their resolve to reach a comprehensive settlement as soon as possible. The next leaders’ meeting will be on Friday, 10 July. Mr. Eide’s full statement is online.
**Bosnia and Herzegovina
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, today welcomed the decision by a court in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the Kotor Varoš case to secure conviction for and award compensatory damages to victims of war-time sexual violence. She says that even though the war there ended two decades ago, the court has sent a strong signal that there will be no sanctuary for perpetrators of conflict-related sexual violence. More information on this is available online.
**Press Conferences Today
For press conferences, we have many, many press conferences today in line with the meeting on climate change that is taking place. Frist, at 12:30 p.m., in this room, Jean-Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly will be here to brief you on the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Climate Change.
Then, at 2:30 p.m., in this room, Cardinal Peter Turkson, Amina Mohammed, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on post-2015 Development Planning and Janos Pasztor, Assistant Secretary-General on Climate Change, will speak to you about the General Assembly’s High-Level Meeting on Climate Change. And finally at 4:45 p.m., in this room, the actor Robert Redford, will brief you on his participation at the High-level Climate Change meeting.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow, at 11 a.m. in this room, there will be a press conference on the release of the Global Sustainability Report. The speakers will be officials from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. At 11:30 a.m. in this room, the Spokesman for the President of the General Assembly Jean-Victor Nkolo, New York Symphony Conductor David Eaton and Music Director Robin Di Maggio will hold a press conference on The Transformative Power of Music — a concert, which will take place at 7 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.
Also tomorrow, the guests at the Noon Briefing will be Mr. Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy, and Dr. Nata Menabde, Executive Director of the World Health Orgnization’s Office at the United Nations. They will present the report Progress on Sanitation and Drinking Water: 2015 Update and MDG Assessment. That’s it for me. Yes, please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Farhan. Today, Israel intercepted ship to the Gaza and activists [inaudible] Israel as a state party because this place was on the international water. And what’s the Secretary‑General’s position on that, it’s… because it’s on the international water.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, we’re studying… of course, it remains to be determined where the ship was intercepted. So, we will look to our colleagues at the UN Special Coordinator’s office for any further details. For our part, the reports that we have seen is that this particular issue has been resolved peacefully at least, and we’re happy to see that there has been no violence. Beyond that, we’ll explore for further details as they come. Yes, Joe.
Question: Yes. This is a follow‑up to my question to you on Friday. You were going to check to see the specific sources that were used in the estimation of the number of children killed in Syria in the children and conflicts report and whether the figure that you said was an undercount is going to be amended in light of more data.
Deputy Spokesman: I don’t believe that there’s going to be any revision of the report, but, yes, I did speak with Leila Zerrougui about this, and she herself also said that that number of casualties for children in Syria was an undercount. Certainly, I think that office will be very cautious in the presentation of data and numbers as it proceeds with its work. But, they were going with whatever were the verified numbers… the numbers, in other words that could be verified at that time, and she is well aware that this was clearly an undercount.
Question: Well… but, did you verify whether, for example, her office consulted the Documentation Violation Center, which listed over 1,000 deaths of children since the passage of the Security Council resolution last February?
Deputy Spokesman: The numbers that they received were from verified data that was not from the NGO that you cited.
Question: Can you find out the specific sources, if you could, and let us know? Because that’s a pretty gross undercounting, even if relative to the Documentation Violation Center, which set out its methodology in very specific terms. And if you’re not going to… if the Secretary‑General’s not going to amend that report, then that misleading figure still is out there.
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, Ms. Zerrougui is aware and she does concede the point that this was very clearly an undercount. It’s just on the basis of only being able to go with verified figures during a situation of conflict when we simply did not have access to the sort of figures that she would have liked to have had. Yes?
Question: Thanks a lot. About Burundi, I have a couple of questions. One is this distinction… I saw the announcement by the Secretary‑General that basically seemed to be saying MENUB was going to continue to observe and that they should be treated with respect and protected. Then I saw a statement or a tweet by Helen Clark saying the UN is not observing, and then I heard at the stakeout when I asked the question, the Secretary‑General saying… making some distinction between withdrawing electoral support, but still observing. What exactly is the UN’s role? And also, has the Secretary‑General sought to speak with Mr. Nkurunziza? And if so, was he rebuffed? Why not speak to the protagonist himself?
Deputy Spokesman: On the last one, we do try to be in touch with President Nkurunziza as much as possible. The Secretary‑General, like I said, spoke with Presidents Kikwete and Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma of the African Union Council. Those were the people he was able to contact directly. Other contacts we tried through officials with the Government. Regarding the various UN offices, on 29 June, that is to say today, the teams of the electoral mission, MENUB, were deployed to observe the communal and legislative elections. As you know, MENUB continues to observe the process in accordance with its Security Council mandate and will issue statements on the polling. In accordance with that mandate, the Secretary-General will also report to the Security Council. That, of course, is part and parcel of what the Security Council itself wants MENUB to accomplish and they are supposed to do that. Regarding other assistance, however, the technical electoral assistance being delivered by the UN Development Programme in Burundi has been suspended. The Secretary‑General has informed the Burundian authorities of the suspension. It was determined that conditions in Burundi at the moment did not allow for the adequate implementation of the project.
Correspondent: Just one last… just to be clear, so the Helen Clark statement the UN is not observe is not correct. It is observing.
Deputy Spokesman: UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] is not doing its electoral observation, but, as you know, MENUB is a special office that has a specific Security Council mandate, and in line with that Security Council mandate, it will issue statements on the polling and the Secretary‑General will accordingly report to the Security Council. Yeah?
Question: Farhan, is the Secretary‑General following the situation in Armenia? Earlier today there seems to be an escalation of violence, and there are reports that some demonstrators were arrested with explosives. Did he contact any of the sites in the [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary‑General has not been in first-hand contact, but if you saw what we had to say on Friday, the High Commissioner for Human Rights… or Thursday or Friday I think, Thursday it was… the High Commissioner for Human Rights put out a statement concerning his own worries about the treatment of protesters in Azerbaijan… sorry, in Armenia. And so, I would refer you to what the human rights office has said on that.
Question: But, what about personally, the Secretary‑General…? Is he doing anything to…?
Deputy Spokesman: Well, the Secretary‑General is monitoring the events, but the comment we have on this comes from High Commissioner Zeid’s office, and I would refer you to what they’ve said. Yes?
Question: Is there any word when there would be [a Special Representative of the Secretary-General] for Darfur? There seems to be… seems to be a vacant post.
Deputy Spokesman: We’ll announce the appointments as we get them. Yes.
Correspondent: According to a WikiLeaks document, Ms. Susan Rice, the house National Security Adviser in 28… 29 discussed concerns over the board of inquiry report on incident at the UN sites in December that regarding the Israeli attack on Gaza and that the Secretary‑General told her that his staff were working with an Israeli delegation on the text of the cover letter regarding… to the Security Council. I know you don’t comment on WikiLeaks…
Deputy Spokesman: We don’t actually comment on any leaked documents, not just WikiLeaks.
Question: Okay. My question is… Did the Secretary‑General… or the staff of the Secretary‑General in 28 and 29 work with Israeli delegation to draft the cover letter of the…?
Deputy Spokesman: No. As a practice, the Secretary‑General and his team, they draft their letters. Sometimes we consult with Member States on issues of mutual concern. But, that doesn’t mean that anyone else is involved in drafting our letters besides the Secretary‑General and his team. That’s what I’d have to say on that. Beyond that, I have no comment on leaked documents. Richard?
Question: Unless I missed it in the first minute, any update on the Dag Hammarskjöld leak? No, distribution.
Deputy Spokesman: You just stuck the word "leak" there gratuitously right? No, we expect hopefully soon enough to be able to discuss what the Secretary‑General’s own recommendations on the way forward are and at that point he would transmit the report onward, so we hope to be able to provide you with that information as soon as that happens. Yes?
Correspondent: Just for the record, I might have inadvertently made a mistake in my reference to the undercount of children. Of course, I meant the undercount of Syrian children killed in 2014 and the children in armed conflict report. And you’re stating for the record that the UN officially concedes that what’s in that report was definitely an undercount.
Deputy Spokesman: I’ve been saying this for some time now, but, yes, I spoke with Leila Zerrougui about this and she as well believes that to clearly be an undercount. And if I may bear your indulgence, I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary‑General concerning Yemen.
The Secretary-General deplores the Coalition airstrikes on a UN compound in Aden on 28 June, which resulted in serious damage to the UNDP office and injured a guard. International humanitarian law requires protection by all parties of civilians and civilian facilities, including UN staff and UN premises. The inviolability of UN premises and the important work of all United Nations staff must be respected at all times. The Secretary-General urges a full investigation into this incident and that anyone found to be responsible for any breaches be held to account. Ensuring accountability is indispensable in preventing such incidents. The Secretary-General strongly believes that this incident only underscores the imperative that all the parties to the conflict must end the fighting and return to the negotiation table as the only possible way to achieve a durable peace in Yemen.
Question: Sorry. I didn’t hear the beginning of that. Who did it? Was it from the air or on the ground?
Deputy Spokesman: Like I said, we deplore the coalition airstrikes on a UN compound. Yes? No, no, no it’s Majeed behind you.
Question: Thank you Farhan. I have two questions. The first one is a follow‑up for the questions I asked Thursday and Friday about Kobane and the situation in northern Syria. Do you have any new information about that? It you get anything? And the second is about the climate change. Brazil, India, South Africa and China actually today expressed their disappointment of rich countries, they promised $100 billion in in fund to help the developing countries deal with the green… greenhouse-gas emissions. Will the Secretary‑General join them in their call for this fund to be… to be provided. As the records show, there is countries were short in providing even a small part of that fund that they promised six years ago.
Deputy Spokesman: Well, on the Green Climate Fund, the Secretary‑General has been urging Governments to contribute and to contribute generously to this. He was very pleased at the ability to establish a Green Climate Fund and it needs to be able to function fully and adequately. And they all do need to step up their funding for that. Beyond that, on your question about the various disagreements and disputes, I’d just draw your attention to the press conferences that will take place later today including one from my colleague Jean‑Victor just after I’m done, but there will be many, many more details to be shared about today’s climate change event. Regarding Kobane, we continue to follow the situation. We are very concerned about reports of renewed fighting in Kobane. You’ll have seen, of course, the concerns we expressed many months ago when it looked like the forces of Da’esh were going to be able to do a lot of destruction there, and we hope that that will be averted. Yes?
Question: I was just wondering if you could provide any details as to the building that was hit in Aden. Was it an office building? Was it a warehouse? Were staff inside at the time?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s a UNDP office. The UNDP office took damage, and like I said, one guard was injured. Beyond that, there were no other casualties on our side. Yes?
Question: Sure. Thanks a lot. I wanted to ask, since the release of that OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report about sexual abuse and exploitation which gave at least some summary figures of allegations by TCC [troop-contributing countries], there’s a report it seems that the Indian officials have gone public and said of the three cases mentioned against them that… that they are prosecuting two and investigating a third. One, I wanted to know, does the UN have any comment on that, particularly them going public with their reaction to the report? And, two, do you have any indication on the other countries named in the report — South Africa, Pakistan and others — whether, in fact, they’ve taken any action on the cases enumerated in the OIOS report?
Deputy Spokesman: We are following up on all the various countries that are named in the report to see what sort of follow‑up action is taken. There are no details to share at this stage on that. Of course, when countries do follow up and make public the actions that they have taken to follow up on any of these allegations of misconduct or abuse, that’s to be encouraged, and we hope that more countries will follow suit and make sure that, when these incidents occur, they look into the conduct of their own troops and are open about that.
Question: But, I guess my question is, if the rationale for not releasing such information by the UN is that the countries don’t want to do it, if a country is making public statements about what it has done, can the UN confirm, for example, that it has refer… received information from the Indian army that two have been prosecuted and one is being investigated?
Deputy Spokesman: For that, I would urge you to follow up with the countries at this stage. The Secretary‑General has tried, as you know, and has made public to Member States his intentions to talk about and identify countries, but this remains something that is in dialogue with the Member States themselves and it’s something we hope that we can be more open about and forward leaning about in the future, but it is something on which the troop‑contributing countries have had their own views, and we are trying to work with them and deal with them as a matter of respect.
Question: But, just to understand the Secretariat’s position, are you saying there needs to be a vote for the Secretary‑General to make this information public, or he’s trying to get some informal agreement from TCCs generally and how many? If it’s 9 out of 10, is that enough, or how does it work?
Deputy Spokesman: It’s part of a collaborative process. We are moving forward on this. The Secretary‑General has made clear what his intentions are, and we’re trying to see how we can go about getting that implemented. And with that, Jean‑Victor.